Unemployment rate falls to 50-year low…
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 3.5% last month, matching a 50-year low, down from 3.6% in January.
The monthly job gain comes from a survey of payrolls in the second week of February.
So far there are few signs that the job market has been affected by the coronavirus, but most economists expect hiring to slow in the coming months.
Wage growth slowed slightly in February, rising 3% compared with a year earlier, down from a 3.1% year-over-year average gain in January. Paychecks have grown at a 3% pace or higher for more than a year and a half but have slowed since reaching 3.5% last summer.
The government on Friday also upgraded its estimate of job growth in December and January by a combined 85,000 more than it had previously reported. Over the past three months, U.S. employers have added 243,000 jobs — the best quarter pace since September 2016.
Unseasonably warm weather in February likely boosted hiring in the construction industry, which added 42,000 jobs, and hotels and restaurants, which gained nearly 50,000.
Manufacturing added 15,000, which probably won’t be replicated in the coming months because of supply chain disruptions in China. Last month’s totals include 7,000 temporary Census jobs to help compile the 2020 count.
So long as monthly job gains remain above 100,000 or so, the unemployment rate should stay low and the economy may be able to avoid a downturn. If the monthly pace were to sink below that level for a sustained period, joblessness would likely rise.
In 2019, employers added jobs at a pace of about 175,000 a month, slightly slower than in 2018 but enough to absorb new workers and lower the unemployment rate over time.
A pickup in housing sales has supported growth, with ultra-low mortgage rates helping more buyers afford a purchase. And consumer spending, fueled by solid pay increases, has lifted online retailers, restaurants, and the broader economy.
The timeliest gauge of layoffs is the government’s weekly report on applications for unemployment benefits. People who are laid off are eligible for the aid. The latest data, issued Thursday, was reassuring: It showed that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits dropped 3,000 to 216,000 in the week that ended Feb. 29. That is roughly the same as the average over the past month and is a very low level historically.
The job market appears resilient according to several gauges. The jobs website Indeed’s data shows that companies have yet to cut their job postings, evidence that they are still willing to hire.
And on Wednesday, payroll processor ADP said companies added a healthy 183,000 jobs in February.
A survey of small businesses by the National Federation for Independent Business found that about one-fifth of small companies in February planned to add jobs, unchanged from the previous month.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.